The Chinese working class, super-exploited by the standards we in the West are used to – are on the march. There have been militant strikes recently at the Sino-Japanese Honda Lock plant in Zhongshan, the Japanese-owned Brother Industries in Xi’an and the electronics company Foxconn, where industrial action has been accompanied by suicides of workers. In many of these disputes, workers have clashed not just with the factory bosses but also with the state-run “unions” controlled by managers and beholden to the Chinese state and the “Communist” ruling class.
The tipping point, according to Chinese labour activists, was the major demonstration in 2008 by workers at Yantian port in Shenzhen, owned by the richest capitalist in Asia, Li Ka-Shing.
Liu Kaiming, director of the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a labour rights group in Shenzhen, quoted in the Guardian of 12 June, said: “that was the tipping point because they demanded their own representatives. Workers in China are becoming more and more powerful. They are not just asking for higher wages; they are asking for collective rights and benefits.”
This is encouraging news for all of us who believe in socialism-from-below and hate Stalinism in all its variations, and perhaps especially its capitalist variation in China. But the Graun‘s resident Stalinist, Seumas “Posh Boy” Milne has written an astonishing piece somehow managing to suggest that the strikes are supported by the Chinese ruling class (or, at least, a section of it) and are a “powerful challenge” not to the Chinese ruling class, but to…”Washington.”
The Stalin school of falsification lives on, at the Graun…
Workers Liberty has answered Milne’s slippery distortions:
Those who doubt the malign influence of Stalinism should read Seamus Milne’s carefully worded eulogy of the Chinese ruling class in the Guardian (1 July).
Milne describes the benefits of “China’s economic model”, slipping in a gratuitous reference to its constitution, which states China is a “socialist state led by the working class”.
Strikes are apparently normally “discouraged”, rather than the more accurate description – generally repressed. Milne states correctly that the recent strikes have been organised “outside of official union structures”, omitting that these “official unions” are state labour fronts with no independent role for representing workers.
For Milne, the response of the authorities to these strikes “has verged on the supportive”. Apparently the “Hu Jintao leadership” is determined to tackle inequality and increase consumption. Milne also falls back on his usual lesser evil argument, that China’s model is “a powerful challenge to the Washington consensus” – rather than in symbiosis with it.
But Milne goes much further than this. He suggests that there are “signs of a resumption of reform socialism”, and of the “restoration of the working class as the leading class”. This is pure fantasy. The idea that the Chinese rulers retain a socialist essence should have been buried after their repression of workers and students in Tiananmen Square in 1989, if not decades before.
Milne states that the strikes have been against rampant exploitation, but fails to draw the necessary conclusions. If the strikes are about exploitation, this means one class is extracting surplus labour from another. Chinese capitalists, in cahoots with multinationals and backed by the Chinese state are exploiting Chinese workers. China is a class society – indeed a capitalist society, not a better or more progressive economic system.
The strikes represent a great hope – the emergence of a powerful Chinese working class. This movement will have to beware of fake lefts “friends” and apparent fellow travellers like Milne.